August 2nd, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Journalists recently targeted in attacks in Islamabad say that no headway has been made as yet to arrest their assailants, as a group of 107 Harvard-educated journalists have expressed alarm at the surge in attacks on journalists in Pakistan.
On August 1, the Fellows from Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard urged the Pakistan government to end impunity and take action against those who are attacking, harassing and intimidating journalists.
“An alarming surge in attacks on journalists in Pakistan has shocked the media community in the country and caused concern among journalists everywhere,” according to the statement signed by 107 Nieman fellows and issued from Boston city on Sunday.
Unresolved cases of Absar, Toor, Matiullah cited
The statement cited attacks on Absar Alam, Asad Toor and Matiullah Jan over the past year in the federal capital.
“We, Nieman Fellows, around the world condemn the assassination attempt on our colleague Absar Alam, Nieman Fellow 2005, a senior journalist and former chairman Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority.”
“On 20 April 2021, while he was walking in the park near his home in Islamabad, an armed assailant fired at him. The gunshots caused injuries from which he is still recovering. Alam is known for speaking truth to power. The police have yet to arrest the criminals who masterminded the assassination attempt or the attacker,” reads the statement.
The Harvard-educated journalists noted that barely a month after the attack on Absar Alam, three armed men barged into the apartment of vlogger Asad Toor in Islamabad and severely beat him. Although clearly visible in CCTV footage, they have yet to be apprehended, the international journalists stated.
“In July 2020, unidentified men kidnapped senior freelance journalist Matiullah Jan outside his wife’s place of work, also in Islamabad. They drove him to an unknown place and tortured him, releasing him 12 hours later after international outcry. These are just a few incidents over the past year alone,” the international journalists said.
“We urge the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to arrest and prosecute the criminals involved in these attacks and kidnappings. The government of Pakistan must ensure the safety of all journalists and eliminate this culture of impunity that has rendered Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists,” the Nieman Fellows said.
No clue to assassin yet: Absar Alam
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Absar Alam he was thankful to the international journalists for expressing solidarity with their counterparts in Pakistan. “They mentioned the attack on me as I am a former Nieman fellow but they also expressed their concern at other attacks on journalists in Islamabad, which has become the most-dangerous city for journalists in the country,” he said.
These Harvard-educated journalists work on senior positions in newspapers and broadcast channels across the world, Alam said.”This is a positive message from the international journalistic community towards upholding values of freedom of expression and human rights,” he added.
Absar Alam hoped that the government and the judiciary would ponder on the media censorship and attacks on journalists in Pakistan that has alarmed the international community. He revealed that police investigations had not made any progress in tracing criminals who attempted to assassinate him in Islamabad in April. “Police have interrogated a suspect but have not come to a definite conclusion about the identity of the assassin who shot me and what were the motives behind that attack,” he said. Similarly, no progress has been made in arresting suspects of other attacks on journalists in Islamabad, he added.
Asked about the factors behind the culture of impunity in the country, the senior journalist said the powerful people and criminals believed that they could never get caught for any wrongdoing. “Several cases of attacks on journalists are still unresolved that strengthens the culture of impunity in the country,” he added.
According to Absar Alam, the judiciary has to shoulder the burden of ending impunity against journalists in the country.
Police not sharing investigations despite court order: Toor
Asad Toor said the statement from renowned international journalists in their support was heartening for journalists in Pakistan and made them feel they are not alone. “We are encouraged that there are voices in the world speaking up for journalists in Pakistan against the forces targeting them,” he told Voicepk.net.
Toor also said there was no clue to the assailants that had attacked him in his Islamabad apartment in May. “There is absolutely no update in my case. I was forced to approach the courts to force police to share details of the investigation with my lawyers. Police has done nothing. No response has been received from the National Database Regulatory Authority (NADRA) about the fingerprints. Similarly, the Federal Investigation Authority has given no response on the video footage as regard to the whereabouts and identities of the assailants seen in them,” he said.
Toor said that despite a court order the police has yet to share file of investigations with his lawyers. “Last Friday, the police team told us they would share the investigation file but did not do so,” he said. “This proves that the police team is conniving with my assailants,” Toor alleged.
According to Toor, mostly those journalists are attacked who are critical of the ruling government. “The culture of impunity will not end as the State does not act against the criminals targeting journalists,” he added.
International support will save journalists lives: PFUJ
In a statement on Monday, Pakistan Federal Union of journalist (PFUJ) appreciated Harvard-educated journalists’ statement expressing their concern at a surge in attacks on journalists and media workers in Pakistan.
The solidarity expressed with journalists in Pakistan has highlighted issue of attacks on the journalists and media workers globally, PFUJ President Shehzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said. “This support and concern shown by Harvard educated journalists is unprecedented and highly motivational for us,” the PFUJ said.
The PFUJ leadership said that the state of media in Pakistan is need of serious attention from global communities as lives of journalists and media workers are under serious threats due to growing incidents of attacks, kidnapping, forced disappearances and rising censorship and press advices in Pakistan. “Continued support by international partners and media community may help us in reducing hardships and saving of lives of journalists in Pakistan, ” the PFUJ said.
The signatory Nieman fellows included journalists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Pakistan and other countries. Owais Aslam Ali, secretary general Pakistan Press Foundation; Bill Kovach, Robert Giles, Ann Marie Lipinski, Zawwar Hasan, Philip Meyer, Alvin Shuster, Beena Sarwar, Nirupama Subramanian, Claudia Antunes, Chris Cobler, Altin Raxhimi, Taghreed El Khodary, Kim Cloete, Margaret Kriz Hobson, Bert Lindler, Vidya Krishnan, Jeb Sharp, Yasmin Amer, Kitty Eisele, Bukola Adebayo, Rema Nagarajan, Amber Payne, Ines Pohl, Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, Laura Eggertson, Melissa Ludtke, Anita Harris, Gaiutra Bahadur, Kalpana Jain, Liz Mineo, Ignacio Gómez, Lois Fiore, Stefanie Friedhoff, Phillip Martin, Martha Bebinger, Subina Shrestha, Darcy Frey, Nathan Payne, Indira Lakshmanan, Santiago Lyon, Ashwaq Masoodi, Andras Petho, Stefan Candea, Michael Fitzgerald, Gary Knight, Selymar Colón, Doug Struck, Joshua Benton, Robert Chaney, Helen Branswell, Shalini Singh, and Brent Walth are some of the signatories.